04 October 2012

What's in Your Name That Defines You?

by Deborah Elliott-Upton

Whether we like it or not, we are labeled everyday by strangers making immediate impressions of who we are by how we look, act and react to what happens to us in this world. We can't often make them love us or even like us and maybe it doesn't even matter in the big scheme of things. After all, they are strangers. But, it was people who loved us who saddled us with the lasting impression our names label us with when we are out there meeting the world.

Most writers have skimmed through a book of baby names when we can't find the perfect one for one of our characters. I own several of these books and have scoured the Internet for names popular in particular decades where my stories take place. It really helps to nail down the right name for the people populating our stories.

My mother chose the name, Deborah, for me in honor of her Native American best friend who had been adopted at an older age. Her new parents told her she could choose any name she wanted. She chose Deborah and so did my mom. (By the way, at the hospital I was born that night five other girls were born. Every one of them were named either Deborah, Debra or Debbie.)

According to the baby names books, Deborah means "bee". I'm thinking this is an appropriate name for me since I have a problem sitting still. Mom said even as a baby, I was a mover and shaker. Bees are known for being busy.

In this world of hurry, scurry and way too much worrying, I am stepping back and taking stock. Priorities need to be set, scheduled free time needs to be found. As I am doing this mentally, I realize this is another form of busy work, but work that needs to be finished.

I think I would enjoy being a Pooh for a time. But, for only a short time. I wouldn't be happy sitting back and eating honey all the time.

Does your name suit you or did a nickname decipher your personality better? Is a Deborah the same person in your mind as a Debra or a Debbie, Debby or Dee?

What about your favorite character?

Wasn't it interesting in the Indiana Jones movie with Sean Connery as Indy's dad letting us know Indiana wasn't his son's real name. "We called the dog Indiana," Connery growled.

Would Sam Spade have been as hard-edged if his named had been Ted?

Could a girl named Anne be as hard and fiery as a Scarlett?

As Shakespeare stated, a rose is a rose is a rose.

But, I think if Juliet had been a Carrie, she would have been a different character altogether.

By the way, I named my daughter Melissa which means "honey bee." She is so much sweeter than me.


  1. You and I both care about names. I recall the two of us searching for a perfect name for some story.

    My parents named my middle brother and me with a nod to our American Indian heritage and family names. With first and middle names taken together, mine means 'walks in water under the ridge' and my brother means 'camps in the valley'. My youngest brother's forename came from a family friend, but his sort of fit the pattern too meaning 'fire of the sun'.

  2. I can't write a character until I get the right name.

  3. Deborah, excellent opening paragraph, and you are very right, certain names provide the receiver with certain images of that person. The remaining question is: does a child then grow up to reflect the name he or she has been given?
    Early on, Leigh inquired what R.T. stood for. Seems I was named after both of my grandfathers: Robert and Thomas. However, when I worked surveillance with state and locals, our radio numbers weren't compatible, so we used first names. Unfortunately, we had too many Roberts and/or Bobs. So, when the bad guy would leave his house and the case agent radioed for Bob to take him away, there would be a parade of surveillance cars and nobody was left to watch the house. My wife suggested the R.T. name and it stuck. Now I am aware of who knew me from the early years by the name they call me. Actually, I have used so many names on the street that I will answer to almost anything if I realize someone is talking to me.
    Good blog article.

  4. Deborah, I have to ask--are you called "Deborah" or do relatives and friends shorten it to Deb?.

    Personally, my name has evolved with time and stages of my life. As a toddler, everyone called me "Fancy." (The family story is that my mama always had me wearing bows and fancy, ruffled panties, which I enjoyed showing off. Hence, "Fancy Pants.") Through school it was "Francie." (Guess it was too embarrassing to explain why they called me "Fancy," plus Reba McEntire's song didn't exactly leave me wanting people to call me "Fancy.") College and beyond, "Frances." I made the change to "Fran" when I divorced. I was going to change my last name too, but when I went through the phone book looking for one I liked, my children (4 and 9 at the time) cried because I wouldn't have the same name they did. For some reason, after the change, people at work began calling me Franrizer like others are called Maryanne. Like RT, I can tell how far back a friendship goes by what folks call me. My extended family has (after over twenty years) finally switched to "Fran."

    My characters tend to name themselves, and try as I might, once they create themselves with a specific tag, I can't change it.

  5. I spend a lot of time trying to think up the right names. I have baby name books, lists of student names, websites for names, especially Norwegian ones - most of my Laskin, SD characters would be Norwegian with a few Germans thrown into the mix - and, of course, the Census to get the most/least popular names for the time frame.

    I kind of suspect that a child does grow up with some sort of shadow from the name they're given - otherwise why would so many teenagers fantasize about changing it? I also have this vision of all the future 2050 nursing home residents with popular names. I think the guys get off easier, because most people don't name their sons Candy or Velvet.

  6. I've always been enchanted with names and what they mean and how people live up to or down to their names! :-) I do think people evolve into their names and that's why so many nicknames abound. By the way, I have never been a Deb, but people who knew me way back when call me Debbie. I don't think I am her any more, but I was as a teenager. Debbie is more cute and bubbly and Deborah is more serious. :) I agree with the future odd names grandparents will have: Grandma Heather just sounds out-of-kilter, but maybe we'll grow into that. I am not so sure about Grandpa Ashton. However, I am sure Mamie and Mabel used to be sweet girly names of cutie-pies and we only know them now as sweet old ladies in the nursing homes.

  7. My mother made my name up. My daddy's name was Alvis, so she took the v out and added a name and called me Uh Liss Uh. I hated it because I was the only one that long ago with a weird name and everyone said it different or wrong and still do.

    I like it now.

    Since I married, my last name is a little different and I always say I have a dollar to my name and it's borrowed and I'm keepin' it.

    Loved your article. I am a name hog too.

  8. I legally changed my name from Betsy to Elizabeth when I was over 40. Needless to say, I should have done it long before. Not even my mother would have the nerve to call me Betsy these days.

  9. Deborah, here are two other things about your name that seem to fit you. You can take your pick, depending on how you feel about the source. :-)

    First, the meaning "bee" is highly significant in the ancient European goddess traditions, in which he bee and its honey were a symbol of the goddess's fertility. Cows and milk were as well. Notice that this gives a new read to "a land flowing in milk and honey", too -- a read that was there at the time and we've lost since.

    Second, if you're into the Old Testament, Deborah was the only woman Judge and a mighty, powerful woman. You can read about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deborah

    Either way, your name says a lot of powerful and positive things about you!

  10. My mother named me after a character in a book she read about the time I was born. I always hated the name!!! And have tried all kinds of nicknames all my life. For my aka I finally chose the name of my great grandfather in Knoxville, Ransom D. Whittle. It sounds like a person who would pen spy thrillers! Thelma in Manhattan

  11. I have never liked my name, but didn't think to use my middle name, Thomas. I was underweight, withdrawn and studious as a child, so my name took on even more signifance. I can still hear the taunts.

    "Hershey Bar" was the most used epithet, and everyone who used it thought they were being clever. I was named for an uncle who was killed in an accident before I was born. Oh how I wish he had a more "manly" name.

    Yes, names are important, both in fiction and real life. Parents should be a little more thoughtful before naming a child. And I think some celebrities are the biggest offenders.


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